Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., became the oldest sitting congressmember last month, following the death of Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska.
And critics say recent rumors are proof she has to retire. Now.
Feinstein is unable to function as a senator and her mental abilities have rapidly deteriorated, three Senate Democrats and one House Democrat told The San Francisco Chronicle during interviews.
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The bombshell report from The Chronicle was corroborated by three of Feinstein’s former staffers and a fourth senator, who was not a Democrat. They all expressed a desire to maintain a working relationship with Feinstein, and so they all remained anonymous.
They also expressed respect for Feinstein’s early career, and they empathized with her during her husband’s battle with cancer earlier this year.
Still, they described Feinstein’s current situation as very dire. One Senate Democrat said, “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse.”
The House Democrat spoke even more directly:
The Chronicle reported:
When a California Democrat in Congress recently engaged in an extended conversation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, they prepared for a rigorous policy discussion like those they’d had with her many times over the last 15 years.
Instead, the lawmaker said, they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours.
Rather than delve into policy, Feinstein, 88, repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district, the member of Congress said, with no apparent recognition the two had already had a similar conversation.
The episode was so unnerving that the lawmaker… began raising concerns with colleagues to see if some kind of intervention to persuade Feinstein to retire was possible. Feinstein’s term runs through the end of 2024. The conversation occurred several weeks before the death of her husband in February.
“I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn’t resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone,” the House Democrat told The Chronicle.
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The representative remained anonymous, like all the others. However, if this lawmaker met Feinstein 15 years ago, then that account would align with Rep. Jerry McNerney’s first inauguration to Congress.
“She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that,” the lawmaker continued.
Feinstein dismissed the reports.
“The last year has been extremely painful and distracting for me, flying back and forth to visit my dying husband who passed just a few weeks ago,” she said in a statement to The Chronicle.
“But there’s no question I’m still serving and delivering for the people of California, and I’ll put my record up against anyone’s.”
Some colleagues even defended Feinstein’s recent performance during on-the-record interviews with The Chronicle.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., pointed to Feinstein’s recent letter about the traffic jam on Interstate 95. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pointed to Feinstein’ germane questions during the recent confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court.
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“I’ve heard some of the same concerns,” Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who worked for Feinstein in the 90s, told the paper. “But as someone who sees her multiple times a week, including on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can tell you she’s still doing the job and doing it well.”
However, these accounts are compatible with The Chronicle‘s report of Feinstein’s senility. All the paper’s sources specified that Feinstein has both good days and bad days.
Some colleagues have questioned The Chronicle‘s decision to single out Feinstein’s mental state. They noted that some male senators — like Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. — have evaded this scrutiny despite signs of senility.
“For his last ten years, Strom Thurmond didn’t know if he was on foot or on horseback,” a former Senate staffer told The New Yorker in 2020.
But maybe Byrd and Thurmond should have been questioned, too.
The Horn editorial team